Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Greta the Mad Butcher (1977)

Written by: Erwin C. Dietrich, Jesus Franco
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Starring: Dyanne Thorne, Tania Busselier, Lina Romay

Last week, the world of exploitation movies lost one of its true luminaries. Jesus “Jess” Franco (and roughly sixteen thousand pseudonyms), who was born Jesus Franco Manera in Madrid, Spain, on May 12, 1930, died on April 2. He was still cranking them out, and died before completing his current project, Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Women. Better paeans to the man have been written by more knowledgeable b-movie writers than me, so I'll keep it short and sweet by saying that Franco's contributions to the various genres he touched with his insanity are truly incomparable. Lots of directors make weird movies, and lots of directors make smut, but no one made weird smut like Franco. His love of jazz was obvious to anyone who sat through one of his infamous nightclub scenes, and many of his flicks are like cinematic jazz-fusion experiments, noodling around through various recurring themes and psychedelic set pieces until the viewer feels like someone slipped them a roofie. Franco was one of a kind, and he will be missed.

Tonight's movie is one of his less weird efforts. Well, less weird for him anyway. Any given value of normalcy is virtually meaningless in Franco's world, but at least here you can follow the plot and the dialog mostly makes sense. In the shower room of the Las Palomas women's sexual correctional facility, one of the inmates starts some fisticuffs and escapes while the guards are trying to restore order. Several of the guards pursue her through the jungle, but she kills one and escapes the others only after suffering some severe gunshot wounds. Luckily for her, she makes it to the house of Dr. Arcos, who treats her injuries. He also hears her talk in her troubled sleep about the tortures she was subjected to at Las Palomas, so he's plenty suspicious when Dr. Greta Lupino and a retinue of guards show up to reclaim their patient.

When checking up on the girl a few days later, Arcos is told she died of infection from her wounds. Arcos takes the matter to the Amnesty International, but since Las Palomas has never been found in violation on any previous inspections, and the patients there are, after all, considered mentally unstable, the authorities' hands are tied with red tape. When Arcos returns to his car, there's a woman waiting for him in the back seat with a gun. She is Abbie Phillips, the younger sister of the escaped inmate he treated, and she has what can only be referred to as a really fucking bad plan. She wants him to commit her to Las Palomas under a false name so she can snoop around and find out what happened to her sister, and after a couple of months, Arcos will come back with papers to get her out. Of course, with the authorities refusing to help, a really fucking bad plan is about all they have to go with.

Next thing you know, Abbie is being hosed down by Greta's sadistic lesbian sidekicks and shown the ropes by Juana, the alpha inmate and Greta's personal sex toy (the scene where Greta sticks acupuncture pins in Juana's chest before laying on top of her is especially cringe-inducing). Things rapidly go from bad to worse, as Abbie discovers her sister is still alive, and being held not as a sexual degenerate, but a political prisoner. You see, the only real sexual degenerates at Las Palomas are Greta and her minions. The facility is just a front for disposing of revolutionaries and enemies of Greta's boyfriend, the president of whatever South American country this is meant to be taking place in. Once Greta informs Abbie's sister what will happen to her younger sibling if she doesn't talk, she finally rats out the leader of her band of revolutionaries: Dr. Arcos!

Guess it wasn't luck that brought her to his doorstep at the beginning of the flick. And once the guards from Las Palomas are sent to gun him down, Abbie's hopes of getting out in one piece are looking pretty slim. It's just too bad Juana got a look at Greta's torture chamber earlier. She may have been a nasty piece of work, but she had no idea what was going on in the basement and she doesn't like it much. She also has a spare set of keys to the entire compound, and a bunch of psychopaths that you personally tortured is the last thing you want knocking on your office door, huh, Greta?

I don't think most pornos have this much nudity in them. Once Abbie is behind bars at Las Palomas, I don't think there are more than a few frames that don't have boobs bouncing through them. Just because there are tits, though, that doesn't mean it's titillating. I wouldn't want to meet the person who would get off on this flick. Its list of atrocities is impressively icky, making it a worthy entry in the infamous Ilsa series, even if it isn't one really (the flick was retitled Ilsa the Wicked Warden in most US releases, including the version I have, with all the mentions of the name Greta wiped from the soundtrack). Abbie is treated for her supposed sexual manias by having acid injected into her vagina; Greta and her captain of the guard sell films of their tortures on the snuff circuit (which provides this movie's closest equivalent to one of Franco's nightclub scenes, with the snuff film broker boogieing to a tune on a jukebox before purchasing the latest films), including the evening she treated some of El Presidente's more brutal soldiers to a gang rape buffet of her inmates; Juana trades Abbie some information about her sister in exchange for Abbie wiping Juana's ass after an attack of the shits...WITH HER TONGUE! And Greta's final comeuppance is a sight to see. It's a little like what happens to Rhodes in Day of the Dead, but the effects are much more primitive, and it's intercut with scenes of lions and tigers tearing apart prey animals. It starts off as just red food coloring and it looks silly, but then it just keeps going...and going...and going. And the actresses start chewing on real meat instead of sort of nibbling on Dyanne Thorne. And suddenly it's not silly, and is in fact rather harrowing and makes you feel a little queasy. In other words, it's good stuff, and I highly recommend it.

There's a lovely story on the commentary track, where Howard Maurer (who played El Presidente) and Dyanne were told by Jess that if they ever wanted a great meal, to go to a particular hotel restaurant and ask for the chef and drop Franco's name. So one night, after a day of shooting, they were out on the town quite late and decided they were hungry. They went to the restaurant, and had someone rouse the chef from bed. He was obviously not happy at all about this, until they mentioned Jess Franco. Then he was all smiles and friendliness, and made them one of the best meals they'd ever had. Howard and Dyanne married me and Malorie in Las Vegas in 2007, and it was fun talking to them about their memories of making the Ilsa movies, and about this movie and working with Franco. They said he was a pleasure to work with and a very sweet man.

Thanks for all the crazy movies. We'll miss you.

And because I never get tired of telling people about how awesome our wedding was, and what incredible people Howard and Dyanne Maurer are, here's a picture of me and Malorie and Howard and Dyanne in our Ilsa shirts, and my copy of Ilsa the Wicked Warden, which they autographed along with She-Wolf of the SS and Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks. And those boots Dyanne is wearing? They're the same ones that she wore in She-Wolf

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